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Want To End Corruption In India? Set Our Traffic Right

We’ll all learn a solid lesson, first-hand.

19/09/2017 8:44 AM IST | Updated 19/09/2017 8:51 AM IST
Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Over the years, we have heard, seen, proposed, trusted, backed, debated, fought for, implemented, and eventually felt dejected or let down by various ideas, laws and methods to combat corruption in India.

The many faces of corruption

Corruption, of course, hits us at different levels and in different contexts. We could be forced to be the victim of it by having no choice but to pay a bribe for a necessary service, or we might be a partner and partial beneficiary, such as by paying a fine or penalty to some municipal commission official or a traffic policeman instead of going by formal channels. Else we could be corrupt ourselves— seeking gratification based on our direct position or our access to a power.

Whatever our role—victim, partner, minor beneficiary, or an outright seeker of gratification—we are guilty of participation.

A corrupt society can break the vicious cycle in only one way—push for a drastic lesson in zero-tolerance of any one common act of law violation.

The human resources guy who takes money to shortlist a candidate for an interview. The procurement executive who will recommend a vendor for a cut or commission. The bank manager who will pass an undeserving loan. The journalist who will take a story at face value from a PR rep. The lawyer who files and withdraws PILs for unethical considerations. The witness who will give false evidence. The sports hero who will enjoy the benefits of political office without returning even minimum attendance. The teacher who will leak questions. The student who cheats. The citizen who votes for cash or liquor. The employee who takes personal printouts in office. The nurse who siphons off tonic bottles and tablets. The bartender who serves a few millilitres less. The government doctor who asks patients to visit his private clinic. The private doctor who insists we do needless tests. The taxpayer submitting fake bills. The nepotistic decision-maker who will deny opportunities to merit in order to benefit a relative.

While we may have nothing to do with scams worth millions involving political leaders, bureaucrats, business tycoons and the like, our behaviour is not very different from theirs—the difference is only in scale. Like them, we push morality to the side, calculate benefit and risk, play psychological games—and ultimately conclude that punishment will never catch up with crime, our crime.

To break the law, we usually delude ourselves into thinking it's not that bad because others are doing it too—and getting away with it.

The only way to break the cycle

A corrupt society can break the vicious cycle in only one way—push for a drastic lesson in zero-tolerance of any one common act of law violation. It must be a simple law being brazenly violated by common citizens, within sight, with impunity.

An act which we rationalise is harmless even when untold psychological and physical harm is done. A law whose breaking is a collective hobby, a near cultural trait, an almost universalised socio-national drama.

It is done on our roads.

"I was merely talking on the phone while driving after two pegs... it's not the same thing as Bofors, or 2G scam, right?" This is how we justify our flouting of the law even as we express dismay and concern over political loot or a powerful scion's misdemeanours.

Let robbers and scamsters get away for a month, but a driver talking on mobile phone be whisked away on the spot for three days of jail.

We do not feel the majestic, unsparing ferociousness of the law when terrorists and rapists are hanged because most of us are unlikely to ever commit any of those acts. We must, therefore, be given a taste of uncompromising law and severe punishment, even if somewhat disproportionate to the crime, in this one specific area—traffic violations—for a larger national, citizen and system transformation.

Let us choose to ignore most other crimes and laws for a month, say this October, and go after a complete cleansing of our traffic law enforcement.

Our traffic reinforces lawlessness

Most of us don't witness major crimes on a regular basis, if ever, but we see—every one of us—traffic violations galore, every day and every hour.

Red signal—zoom past. Seat belt – ho ho! Helmet—I am not batting. Phone conversation while driving—this call is too important for some stupid law. Drunken driving—I have a great control over my mind, two pegs can't mean much.

Who breaks the law? Everyone. Punishment? I have heard a lot of jokes, but this one...

As we go from home to school, college, office, mall or airport, and back, breaking traffic laws and seeing others do it, we don't end up respecting law. Any law. Any notion of law. As we see others, and ourselves, get away, we stop believing that the law can catch up with us, or punishment is a possibility–for any law. You are your realest self on the roads. For real change, we must deal with your our real selves where it best emerges and gloats.

If any government—Centre, state or municipal—decides to unitedly crack down on traffic violations without mercy, even at the cost of every other crime, law and threat, its benefits would be disproportionate, its mental impact unimaginable.

Wherever in the country these roads lead you, wherever you stop next—you will think twice about entering into that transaction of corruption again.

Let robbers and scamsters get away for a month, but a driver talking on mobile phone be whisked away on the spot for three days of jail. No license? Thanks for contributing your car as voluntary tax to the nation, now go walk. Mobile phone use while driving – time you got the iPhoneX.... here, we're breaking this one. Just threw that banana peel or chips packet out of the car, or spit from your bike—here, a broom to sweep the road for an entire day.

We will continue to hear about bribes and land-grabbing and other crimes going unpunished, but what we will see every day, every hour, right there in front of our eyes, is law in its unsparing majestic action.

From the utopia of an anarchist, we will see Dostoevsky's crime and punishment in fast forward mode at our traffic signals.

We will witness on our roads the transformation into the roads of a new India, becoming an exemplar for larger transformations elsewhere.

Wherever in the country these roads lead you, wherever you stop next—you will think twice about entering into that transaction of corruption again.

It must be said again, if you want to remove corruption in India, clean our traffic. If you want a real democracy—stop every VIP vehicle and let an ambulance and fire brigade go past, every day, deliberately.

And did I forget to add, if you want to be a global super-power, whatever that be, get your drainage systems fixed. The day our top 10 cities do not flood after four hours of sudden rainfall, we would be just great.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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